Ever wondered how other countries view American cities? Thanks to this article by French newspaper Le Monde featuring Overcup author Matt Wagner, you can see for yourself what quirky aspects of Portland particularly stick out to those abroad.
It seems that what Le Monde appreciates the most about our city is our artist community, our doughnuts, our bridges, and our naked bike race. If you don't happen to be fluent in French, see a complete translation of the article below!
You loved San Francisco? You’ll love Portland
Bridges, street art, and bikes, the capital of Oregon seems like a Californian metropolis with a creative vibe. To love Portland is to love bridges, old industrial parks, hipster antiques, recycling. And doughnuts. Portland has turned doughnuts into a religion - and if one dares say, one worships in a voodoo temple. In Old Town, Voodoo Doughnuts serves homemade doughnuts. Impatient customers gorge themselves on purple picnic tables in the alley. Others carry theirs out in huge pink boxes as fashionable as those meant for cupcakes. Nothing is too good for these magic donuts.
The bridges of Portland don’t have the majesty of those in San Francisco. They don’t cross bays or oceans, but the Williamette, the small river that empties out into the voluptuous Columbia which comes all the way from the Rocky Mountains. To the south, they say, the Williamette carries its silt to the royal Pinot noir in the dundee hills. So, respect. (Editor's note: This is French thing to say, simply “Respect.” It’s a very hip thing to say in France.)
The bridges are a constant subject of conversation in Portland. There are 12 in the city, all different. Each Portlander has a favorite: the Steel bridge is made of steel beams that recall the industrial past; the Hawthorne, on which passes 30 cyclists a day; or, the Saint Johns, whose construction gave hundreds of workers jobs during the Great Depression. More recently, Tilkum Crossing, opened in September 2015. It’s 518 meters long and has been deemed “The Bridge of the People” in homage to the Chinook Tribe. It is unique in that it accepts everyone: pedestrians, bikes, buses, trams, rickshaws...just not cars.
To love Portland is to love street art. The city is the vanguard for all alternative movements: tiny houses, doll houses decorated and leased on Airbnb, or, the less trendy version, made out of recycled materials and donated to the homeless, like in Dignity Village, the homeless community on Sunderland Street in the northeast of the city.
Portland, “this was San Francisco 30 years ago,” says Matt Wagner. “We know how to reinvent ourselves.” He played drums in a rock band when he arrived. Now he is the artistic director for a microbrewery, he runs a gallery (Hellion), and he writes. “I’ve had tons of jobs,” he laughs. “The times where people go to the office from 8 to 5 are over.”
The parade of naked cyclists
Portland has more artists per capita than any other city in America. The filmmaker Gus Van Sant moved here 30 years ago. The city, who pampers them, has subcontracted the creation of murals on the streets. Pearl District is the arts district. From salted caramels to postcards to leather bags and shopping bags, all is made local. Before, the makers were the artists of Portland. The village has inspired the series “Portlandia” which gently mocks the hipsters and yoga moms that hang out around Hawthorne Boulevard among the backpackers.
Portland is “biketown;” everyone has a bicycle. The city was the first to promote the streetcar in 2001. In his article This is Portland (Microcosm Publishing), Alexander Barrett found that one day he had completely forgotten that even had a car. He found it intact parked for two months in the same place without even a parking ticket. Portland also boasts the largest nude cyclist parade in the country (more than 10,000 participants in June). The preferred slogan of the natives is “Keep Portland Weird.”
How to get there
Leave Paris with layovers (around 12 hours of travel) starting at around 800 Euros for a roundtrip ticket on Air France. There’s a streetcar line from the airport to city center that takes about 40 minutes.
Where to stay
Ace Hotel: an industrial vibe for the clientele - very trendy, artists have created a decor from recycled materials and military surplus items. You can get decent food there for cheap. Rooms start at 215 euros.
The nines: This hotel is luxurious, located at the top floors of a building in the city center, it possesses a million dollar view and a bar-restaurant. Rooms start at 200 euros a night.
Where to eat
Voodoo Doughnut: Kitsch and doughnuts, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. There are 90 different types of doughnuts: bacon, gluten-free, extra large, etc.
Prasad Café: Gluten-free beer and a vegan menu. A selection of salads, soups, and bowls with a base of brown rice or quinoa, and kale with sesame and miso and other vegan delights. About 10 dollars a plate.
Where to shop
Powell’s City of Books: In the heart of Pearl’s District, the trendy neighborhood.The largest new and used bookstore in the United States.
Nike Factory Store: The headquarters of the biggest brand in sports is in Beaverton, a suburb of Portland.
Matt Wagner is the author of The Tall Trees of Paris, featuring over 40 French artists.
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